Site and earlier buildings
The site of the Panthéon had great significance in Paris history, and was occupied by a series of monuments. It was on Mount Lucotitius, a height on the Left Bank where the forum of the Roman town of Lutetia was located. It was also the original burial site of Saint Genevieve, who had led the resistance to the Huns when they threatened Paris in 451. In 508, Clovis, King of the Franks, constructed a church there, where he and his wife were later buried in 511 and 545. The church, originally dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, was rededicated to Saint Genevieve, who became the patron saint of Paris. It was at the centre of the Abbey of Saint Genevieve, a centre of religious scholarship in the Middle Ages. Her relics were kept in the church, and were brought out for solemn processions when dangers threatened the city.
King Louis XV vowed in 1744 that if he recovered from his illness he would replace the dilapidated church of the Abbey of St Genevieve with a grander building worthy of the patron saint of Paris. He did recover, but ten years passed before the reconstruction and enlargement of the church was begun. In 1755 The Director of the King's public works, Abel-François Poisson, marquis de Marigny, chose Jacques-Germain Soufflot to design the church. Soufflot (1713–1780) had studied classical architecture in Rome over 1731–38. Most of his early work was done in Lyon. Saint Genevieve became his life's work; it was not finished until after his death.His first design was completed in 1755, and was clearly influenced by the work of Bramante he had studied in Italy. It took form of a Greek cross, with four naves of equal length, and monumental dome over the crossing in the centre, and a classical portico with Corinthian columns and a peristyle with a triangular pediment on the main façade. The design was modified five times over the following years, with the addition of a narthex, a choir, and two towers. The design was not finalised until 1777.The foundations were laid in 1758, but due to economic problems work proceeded slowly. In 1780, Soufflot died and was replaced by his student Jean-Baptiste Rondelet. The re-modelled Abbey of St. Genevieve was finally completed in 1790, shortly after the beginning of the French Revolution. The building is 110 metres long by 84 metres wide, and 83 metres high, with the crypt beneath of the same size. The ceiling was supported by isolated columns, which supported an array of barrel vaults and transverse arches. The massive dome was supported by pendentives rested upon four massive pillars. Critics of the plan contended that the pillars could not support such a large dome. Soufflot strengthened the stone structure with a system of iron rods, a predecessor of modern reinforced buildings. The bars had deteriorated by the 21st century, and a major restoration project to replace them is being carried out between 2010 and 2020.The dome is actually three domes, fitting within each other. The first, lowest dome, has a coffered ceiling with rosettes, and is open in the centre. Looking through this dome, the second dome is visible, decorated with the fresco The Apotheosis of Saint Genevieve by Antoine Gros. The outermost dome, visible from the outside, is built of stone bound together with iron cramps and covered with lead sheathing, rather than of carpentry construction, as was the common French practice of the period. Concealed buttresses inside the walls give additional support to the dome.
The Revolution – The "Temple of the Nation"
The Church of Saint-Genevieve was nearly complete, with only the interior decoration unfinished, when the French Revolution began in 1789. In 1790, the Marquis de Vilette proposed that it be made a temple devoted to liberty, on the model of the Pantheon in Rome. "Let us install statues of our great men and lay their ashes to rest in its underground recesses." The idea was formally adopted in April, 1791, after the death of the prominent revolutionary figure, The Comte de Mirabeau, the President of the National Constituent Assembly on April 2, 1791. On April 4, 1791, the Assembly decreed "that this religious church become a temple of the nation, that the tomb of a great man become the altar of liberty." The also approved a new text over the entrance: "A grateful nation honors its great men." On the same day the declaration was approved, the funeral of Mirabeau was held in the church.The ashes of Voltaire were placed in the Panthéon in a lavish ceremony on 21 July 1791, followed by the remains of several martyred revolutionaries, including Jean-Paul Marat, and of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the rapid shifts of power of the Revolutionary period, two of the first men honored in Pantheon, Mirabeau and Marat, were declared enemies of the Revolution, and their remains were removed. Finally, the new government of the French Convention decreed in February, 1795 that no one should be placed in the Pantheon who had not been dead at least ten years.Soon after the church was transformed into a mausoleum, the Assembly approved architectural changes to make the interior darker and more solemn. The architect Quatremère de Quincy bricked up the lower windows and frosted the glass of the upper windows to reduce the light, and removed most of the ornament from the exterior. The architectural lanterns and bells were removed the facade. All of the religious friezes and statues were destroyed in 1791; it was replaced by statuary and murals on patriotic themes.
Temple to church and back to temple (1806–1830)
Napoleon Bonaparte, when he became First Consul in 1801, signed a Concordat with the Pope, agreeing to restore former church properties, including the Panthéon. The Panthéon was under the jurisdiction of the canons of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Celebrations of important events, such as the victory of Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz, were held there. However, the crypt of the church kept its official function as the resting place for illustrious Frenchmen. A new entrance directly to the crypt was created via the eastern porch (1809–11). The artist Antoine-Jean Gros was commissioned to decorate the interior of the cupola. It combined the secular and religious aspects of the church; it showed the Genevieve being conducted to heaven by angels, in the presence of great leaders of France, from Clovis I and Charlemagne to Napoleon and the Empress Josephine. During the reign of Napoleon, the remains of forty-one illustrious Frenchmen were placed in the crypt. They were mostly military officers, senators and other high officials of the Empire, but also included the explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville and the painter Joseph-Marie Vien, the teacher of Napoleon's official painter, Jacques-Louis David.During the Bourbon Restoration which followed the fall of Napoleon, in 1816 Louis XVIII of France restored the entire Panthéon, including the crypt, to the Catholic Church. The church was also at last officially consecrated in the presence of the King, a ceremony which had been omitted during the Revolution. The sculpture on the pediment by Jean Guillaume Moitte, called The Fatherland crowning the heroic and civic virtues was replaced by a religious-themed work by David d'Angers. The reliquary of Saint Genevieve had been destroyed during the Revolution, but a few relics were found and restored to the church (They are now in the neighboring Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont). IN 1822 François Gerard was commissioned to decorate the pendentives of the dome with new works representing Justice, Death, the Nation, and Fame. Jean-Antoine Gros was commissioned to redo his fresco on the inner dome, replacing Napoleon with Louis XVIII, as well as figures of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The new version of the cupola was inaugurated in 1824 by Charles X. As to the crypt where the tombs were located, it was locked and closed to visitors.
Under Louis Philippe, the Second Republic and Napoleon III (1830–1871)
The 1830 Revolution placed Louis Philippe on the throne. He expressed sympathy for Revolutionary values, and on 26 August 1830, the church once again became the Pantheon. However, the crypt remained closed to the public, and no new remains were added. The only change made was to the main pediment, which had been remade with a radiant cross; it was remade again by David D'Angers with a patriotic work called The Nation Distributing Crowns Handed to Her by Liberty, to Great Men, Civil and Military, While History Inscribes Their Names. Louis Philippe was overthrown in 1848 and replaced by the elected government of the Second French Republic, which valued revolutionary themes. The new government designated the Pantheon "The Temple of Humanity", and proposed to decorate it with sixty new murals honouring human progress in all fields. In 1851 The Foucault Pendulum of astronomer Leon Foucault was hung beneath the dome to illustrate the rotation of the earth. However, on complaints from the Church, it was removed in December of the same year. Louis Napoleon, nephew of the Emperor, was elected President of France in December 1848, and in 1852 staged a coup-d'état and made himself Emperor. Once again the Pantheon was returned the church, with the title of "National Basilica". The remaining relics of Saint Genevieve were restored to the church, and two groups of sculpture commemorating events in the life of the Saint were added. The crypt remained closed.
The Third Republic (1871–1939)
The Basilica suffered damage from German shelling during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. During the brief reign of the Paris Commune in May 1871, it suffered more damage during fighting between the Commune soldiers and the French Army. During the early years of the Third Republic, under conservative governments, it functioned as a church, but the interior walls were largely bare. Beginning in 1874, The interior was redecorated with new murals and sculptural groups linking French history and the history of the church, by notable artists including Puvis de Chavannes and Alexandre Cabanel, and the artist Antoine-Auguste-Ernest Hébert, who made a mosaic under the vault of the apsidal chapel called Christ Showing the Angel of France the Destiny of Her People.The death of Victor Hugo in 1885 determined the future of the Panthéon. The day after his death, the left-leaning French government decreed a day of national mourning, and officially returned the Panthéon to its former status as "The Temple of Great Men". On June 1, 1885, after a procession through the Paris witnessed by huge crowds, Hugo's remains were placed in the crypt. The subsequent governments approved the entry of literary figures, including the writer Emile Zola (1908), and, after the first World War, leaders of the French socialist movement, including Leon Gambetta (1920) and Jean Jaurès (1924). The Third Republic governments also decreed that the building should be decorated with sculpture representing "the golden ages and great men of France." The principal works remaining from this period include the sculptural group called The National Assembly, commemorating the French Revolution; a statue of Mirabeau, the first man interred in the Pantheon, by Jean-Antoine Ingabert; (1889–1920); and two patriotic murals in the apse Victory Leading the Armies of the Republic to Towards Glory by Édouard Detaille, and Glory Entering the Temple, Followed by Poets, Philosophers, Scientists and Warriors , by Marie-Désiré-Hector d'Espouy (1906).
The brief Fourth Republic (1948–1958) after World War Two pantheonized two physicists, Paul Langevin, and Jean Perrin, a leader of the movement to abolish slavery in France, Victor Schoelcher, an early leader of Free France, a colonial administrator who descended from slaves, Félix Éboué, and, in 1952, Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille system allowing the blind to read. Under the Fifth Republic of President Charles de Gaulle, the first person to be Pantheonized was the resistance leader Jean Moulin. Modern Figures brought into the Panthéeon in recent years include Nobel Peace Prize winner René Cassin (1987) known for drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Nobel laureates physicists and chemists Marie Curie and Pierre Curie (1995); the writer and culture minister André Malraux (1996); and the lawyer, politician Simone Veil (2018).